Buffyverse role-playing games
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Revised Corebook cover.
|Designer(s)||C. J. Carella|
|Publisher(s)||Eden Studios, Inc.|
|Genre(s)||Action/Adventure, Horror, Drama|
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Role-playing Games are complementary, officially licensed role-playing games (RPGs) published by Eden Studios, Inc. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Core Rulebook was published in 2002, while the Angel Corebook followed in 2003. Both games use a streamlined (or Cinematic) version of Eden Studios' popular Unisystem game engine, also featured in CJ Carella's WitchCraft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten, two of Eden's better-known original product lines. In both games, players are able to take on the roles of characters from the respective television series or create wholly original characters as they and their group see fit, effectively building their own Buffyverse series in the process.
Both games have been hailed for their sleek, accessible ruleset and their "Drama Points" system, which gives players a greater degree of control over the flow of the story, allowing them to call upon heroic bursts of energy, plot twists, and other convenient developments as necessary. The Angel role-playing game won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game in its year of release. Following the success of the games, Eden Studios went on to release other successful licensed products based on the Cinematic Unisystem engine, including a 2005 game based on the cult film Army of Darkness.
In October 2006 Eden Studios announced that following settlement of their accounts with Fox and license negotiations they will cease producing new Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel game books or supplements. Support will continue in online forums and web sites.
Buffy Books and Products
There are currently six commercially available titles in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Role-playing Game (BtVSRPG) product line. In order of release, these are:
BtVSRPG: Core Rulebook
(ISBN 1-891153-88-9) The first book in the series and arguably the most essential, the Core Rulebook provides an introduction to the setting, characters and rules. The book is broken down into discrete sections which describe the mechanics and style of the game in a clear and concise manner, so as to appeal to both new gamers and experienced gamers, as well as fans of the show. The text is frequently informal and tongue-in-cheek, in keeping with the general feel of the series itself.
The book includes a series appendices, which describe the unique dialogue and slang used on the show, lay out the differences between the Classic and Cinematic Unisystem rules, provide charts and summaries of the more important concepts, and finally offer a full glossary and index.
The Core Rulebook was initially released alongside a Limited Edition (ISBN 1-891153-92-7) which featured a cream-colored leatherette color, red foil Buffy logo, and red cloth bookmark. Only 1000 copies of this edition were produced. In 2005, Eden Studios released the Revised Core Rulebook (ISBN 1-933105-10-0) which incorporates existing errata into the book, updates some rules to bring the Buffy RPG more in line with the Angel game, and expands upon the material provided in the original Core Rulebook, providing updated characters and adversaries for the sixth and seventh seasons of the series.
BtVSRPG: Slayer's Handbook
(ISBN 1-891153-89-7) The first supplement for the BtVSRPG, the Slayer's Handbook features - as the title would imply - an expanded look at the possible backgrounds and major life events unique to Slayers, and includes such additions as the Slayer-in-Training Quality, which represents Slayers such as Kendra Young who were able to receive training before their calling. However, it also goes on to provide a number of new Qualities, Drawbacks, weapons, archetypes, and more. Aside from the new perspective on Slayers, the book may be most famous among fans for its expansion into alternate settings, offering a number of suggestions on setting a game in different time periods, locations and even parallel realities. Three complete settings exploring these themes are provided within the book. Finally, the Slayer's Handbook includes "The Chosen Two," an adventure which can be used to continue the Djinn Season.
The Slayer's Handbook was also published alongside a Limited Edition (ISBN 1-891153-93-5), which featured a blue leatherette cover, red foil "Slayer" graphic, and red cloth bookmark.
The name Slayer's Handbook is a double reference. In the Buffyverse, the watchers have a book for slayers referred to as the Slayer's Handbook (Giles didn't think Buffy would learn well from a book and so did not use it in training her). It is also an homage to Player's Handbook, the core book of Dungeons & Dragons, one of the first role playing games.
BtVSRPG: Monster Smackdown
(ISBN 1-891153-90-0) The BtVS equivalent of a Monster Manual, this supplement explores vampires, demons, and other adversaries in greater depth, providing an expanded and updated collection of villains and elaborating upon a number of supernatural abilities. It also introduces a few more supernatural creatures as possible player characters - notably the Troll, as defined within the Buffyverse. Like the previous books in this line, Monster Smackdown includes a Djinn Season episode, "The Once and Future HST," which plays with events from the series as well as mythological elements.
Like the Core Rulebook and Slayer's Handbook, Monster Smackdown was published alongside a Limited Edition (ISBN 1-891153-90-0) which featured a black leatherette cover, red foil "Evil" graphic, and red cloth bookmark.
BtVSRPG: Director's Screen
(ISBN 1891153919 ) While the main component of this accessory is a four-panel cardstock screen, designed to shield notes and other sensitive information from the eyes of players while providing quick reference charts to the Director, the Director's Screen comes shrinkwrapped with a 56-page booklet offering a number of Directing tips as well as three pregenerated adventures for the Djinn Season.
BtVSRPG: The Magic Box
(ISBN 1-891153-94-3) As implied by the title, this supplement offers an expanded ruleset for magic spells and spellcasters; however, it also provides a number of new mystical and psychic abilities, new Qualities and Drawbacks, and expands the magical milieu of the game to include Enchanters (who create blessed swords, lightning-throwing gauntlets and other such items) and Superscientists (such as Warren Mears). This supplement also includes an adventure, "Orphan Trouble," which does not necessarily connect to the Djinn Season, but can be modified to fit within that story arc. Released as a softcover, The Magic Box did not receive the Limited Edition treatment.
BtVSRPG: Character Journal
(ISBN 1-891153-57-9) Designed as an expanded version of the character sheet already provided for the game, the Character Journal is a 16-page booklet providing a great deal of space for a single character's statistics, background, experience gains and expenditures, and even notable achievements. It is the only BtVSRPG product which does not include a pregenerated adventure module.
BtVSRPG: Welcome to Sunnydale
(ISBN 1-891153-95-1) Originally solicited for 2003, this supplement was never released. Eden Studios lost the Buffy franchise in October 2006, and with the franchise went this supplement. Welcome to Sunnydale was supposed to include historical and geographical information regarding the setting of the series, expanded descriptions of recurring characters, suggestions on setting series in Sunnydale at various points in the town's history, and a pregenerated adventure closely tied to the town.
BtVSRPG: Tea and Crossbows
According to Phil Masters (an English RPG Author) he had just submitted a solicited manuscript, a guide to the Watchers called Tea and Crossbows, a few days before the Eden Studios announced the loss of their license. Content is unknown, probably much like the Slayer's Handbook with the focus on the Watchers and their history.
Angel Books and Products
Angel RPG: Corebook
(ISBN 1-891153-97-8) Though it is presented as a distinct line, the Angel Role-playing Game serves as a wholly compatible companion to the BtVSRPG. The ruleset is virtually identical, but the game offers an extensive point-based system which allows players and Directors to create their own supernatural package Qualities, thus producing characters ranging from psychics to demons. The book is also noteworthy for its introduction of organizational rules, allowing players and Directors to easily and quickly define the resources, influence and obligation associated with any given group - including, potentially, the player characters themselves.
Given the differences in both characters and setting, the Angel RPG describes that series' main cast and adversaries through the end of Season 3. Los Angeles is also presented, with the expected focus upon the fictional aspects of L.A. introduced on the show. Finally, the book includes the pregenerated adventure "Blood Brothers," which offers a plotline and general tone reminiscent of Angel's somewhat darker style. Interestingly, this is only the first part of a larger adventure, concluded in the Director's Screen (see below).
A Limited Edition (ISBN 1-891153-99-4) of this book was produced in 2003, featuring a black leatherette cover printed with an abstract design, a pale foil "Angel" graphic, and a cloth bookmark. This printing was limited to 500 copies.
Angel RPG: Director's Screen
(ISBN 1-891153-98-6) This product includes a four-panel cardstock screen offering easy reference charts for the Director, as well as a 32-page booklet containing tips, aids, additional charts, and "Blood Brothers, Part Two," the conclusion to the adventure presented in the Corebook.
Angel RPG: Character Journal
(ISBN 1-891153-58-7) Much like the Buffy Character Journal (see above), this 16-page booklet was expected to provide a vastly expanded character sheet allowing players to record a great deal of information. Like many of the Buffyverse supplements, it was never released due to the end of the Fox/Eden licensing agreement.
Angel RPG: Investigator's Casebook
(ISBN 1-891153-43-9) This supplement would have provided expanded rules and setting detail, an overview of the American legal system (appropriately enough, as the employees of Angel Investigations frequently butt heads with police officers, lawyers and others on the show), and a pregenerated adventure. Eden Studios will not release this product since the recent end of their license with Fox.
The first published adventure (outside those featured as extras within the main books) specifically created for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer role-playing game was The Dark Druid by Timothy S. Brannan. The adventure features Fionn mac Cumhaill as a protagonist and ally. His battle with the druid Fer Doirich continues into the modern age, where the adventure posits that the witches Willow and Tara are the reincarnations of his fosterers Bodhmall and Liath respectively.
The Buffy and Angel RPGs utilize a point-based character creation system, in which each player character receives a set number of points in different categories which can then be spent on Attributes, Skills, and Qualities. Drawbacks may also be purchased to provide additional character points, up to an overall limit of ten points. The number of points available to any given character depends on the Character Type (see below).
Stats and tests
The games utilize a variation upon the traditional (or Classic) Unisystem presented in WitchCraft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Commonly known as the Cinematic Unisystem, this variant still relies upon the core mechanic common to all of the system's games, in which the outcome of most actions taken by a player character is determined by the following formula Attribute + Skill + X, where X represents a random result on a ten-sided die.
Attributes represent the character's main six abilities, which in this case are three physical attributes (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution) and three mental attributes (Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower). Willpower represents a change from some Classic Unisystem games, and is used for spellcasting rolls as well as other mental or psychic tasks
There are seventeen basic skills, many of which have irreverent or humorous names, reflecting the style of Whedon's Buffyverse; for example, Getting Medieval (for armed melee combat), Gun Fu (for firearms), and Mr. Fix-It (for repair and mechanical work). This base skill set can be expanded through the use of "Wild Card" skills, which allow a player to establish certain specialties, talents or areas of expertise for their character that might not be covered adequately by the existing rules.
Some Qualities and Drawbacks can also have an impact upon some tests. For example, the Attractiveness Quality/Drawback applies to a variety of social interactions, while some of the package Qualities (such as Slayer, Jock, Artist, etc.) offer assorted bonuses or penalties to rolls under specific circumstances.
There are three Character Types in the Buffy RPG, though the first two are generally considered most appropriate for most games.
The most inherently low-powered Type is the White Hat, a supportive figure similar to Xander Harris or Willow Rosenberg at the beginning of the series. These characters must frequently focus on specific talents and skills, such as Willow's intelligence and interest in computers, in order to truly excel in any one area. They must also often exercise great care in combat. To make up for their relative weakness, White Hats receive additional Drama Points at the outset, and can use experience points to buy Drama Points at a 1:1 ratio, while Heroes and Experienced Heroes must spend two experience points for each Drama Point. Thus, a White Hat can afford to spend her Drama Points more freely, increasing her chances of survival. According to the rules, however, White Hats lose their 'discount' on Drama Points once they've gained a certain amount of power and expertise.
The Hero Character Type represents such figures as Buffy herself, Spike, or Riley Finn. These are characters with more existing talent (whether this came naturally or through years of training), more experience, and stronger supernatural abilities, if any. As such, they receive a larger number of points to spend on their Attributes, Skills and Qualities. However, their maximum number of Drama Points is only half the store available to a White Hat, and they must replenish Drama Points at a higher cost.
Finally, the Experienced Hero Character Type, representing Buffy, Faith or other major characters toward the end of the series, describes a powerful, skilled character who's already seen a lot of action and learned from it all. The Experienced Hero receives expanded Attribute and Quality Points, and a broadly expanded pool of Skill Points.
The Angel RPG features three Character Types which are largely comparable to their counterparts in the Buffy game: the Investigator, Champion, and Veteran. However, to better reflect the fact that characters on Angel tend to be more experienced than characters on Buffy, all of the Character Types receive additional Skill Points (ten points each extra, except Veterans who only receive five points extra) and other upgrades to put them on par with the cast of the series.
Character rewards and development
As in many other RPGs, characters can learn and develop by gaining and expending experience points. These are awarded by the Director, who will usually offer a certain number to all characters for the successful completion of an adventure, and may offer additional experience for particularly good role-playing, particularly when the character is forced to confront their emotional issues (which are usually at least partly defined by their Drawbacks), faces unpleasant news or unwelcome developments, or builds upon friendships or romantic relationships.
An additional reward may be found in the form of Drama Points; though players may spend experience points to give their characters additional Drama Points, these may also be awarded directly by the director in recognition of excellent roleplaying or in consolation for a difficult or tragic event which may deeply impact the character in question.
The Buffy RPG has already contributed to Buffyverse canon, in that Faith Lehane and Kendra Young's last names were provided by Joss Whedon in response to queries from Eden Studios. These names are now used widely throughout fiction based upon the series.
- White, Damon (June 2004). "Origins Award Winners (2003) and Hall of Fame Inductees". GamingReport.com.
- Brannan, Timothy S. (July 2002). "The Dark Druid". Games Unplugged. p. 25.
- Whedon, Joss (January 2005). "Whedonesque".
- Official website of the Buffy RPG.
- Official website of the Angel RPG.
- RPGnet review of the Angel RPG, including a breakdown of chapters.